Since he was 5 years old, Kevin Cruz has been taking things apart and putting them back together again, just to see how they work. At 15, he turned his focus to cars, and a few years later he was off to NASCAR Technical Institute in North Carolina to learn “racing fundamentals from engines, fabrication and welding to aerodynamics and pit crew essentials.” He later worked on all kinds of big trailers, servicing everything from bomb squad vehicles to specialized rigs for the Oakland Police Department.

These days, however, you can find Kevin happily bringing classic Fairyland sets back to life, to the delight of thousands of little kids. Sure, some of his friends tease him a little about it. But, says Kevin: “I work for the kids now, and it’s way more rewarding.”

The rewards for the kids are even more remarkable. Willie the Whale hadn’t spouted in years. Then Kevin replaced the ancient valve system and installed a timer, which now allows for control over the (intermittent and surprising) spouting and produces just the right trajectory and spray power. Kevin tested four types of tips for the sprayer until he found the right one. He loves the looks of astonishment he sees on the kids’ faces when Willie spouts. “Pretty priceless” is how he puts it.

The Happy Dragon’s eyes, which had stopped moving years ago, do so once again, thanks to a new motor and connecting rod installed by Kevin. Geppetto is now happily toiling in his workshop, thanks to a linkage re-do and a new motor.

A new motor mount and reduced slack in the chain ensured that the cow is once again jumping over the moon. A rotating wheel for Alice in Wonderland’s caucus race—that haphazard, no-rules contest that the Dodo introduces to Alice—had bearings that were shot, and needed of a rebuilt hub and a big, new motor. The race is again on. Fairyland’s Fountain of Youth drinking fountain, activated by kids powering a lever, had not worked in a decade. Kevin found a handle and a sleeve that brought it back to life, much to the delight of hundreds of kids each day.

Oh, and the 30 or so storybook boxes, activated by our iconic Magic Keys? They’re all working, with sound that’s been adjusted to just the right decibel level.

On his first Fairyland job interview, Kevin was accompanied by his 2-year-old son, Patrick. Not only were we impressed with Kevin, but Patrick, who particularly loves slides, managed to contain himself amid a kiddie wonderland: not an easy task!

Kevin was born in Ukiah and attended five different elementary schools in five different towns. He had never heard of Children’s Fairyland before he applied for this gig, but it turns out that his uncle attended the ribbon-cutting of the park’s new party area in the 1950s, and his great-aunt was a member of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, which created the park and donated it to the City of Oakland.

Fairyland’s four rides are also under Kevin’s oversight, but it’s his attention to the little things that most impresses us. One day he described the work he’d done on a little clothesline in our Beatrix Potter village. It had constantly been breaking, thanks to the very popular gear-driven wire that kids can manipulate and make move. Kevin took the line apart, rehung it and tightened it. But that’s not all: He also took the tiny clothes home, washed them, and even cut a towel into petite pieces so there would be more on the line to move.

“I get to add my little touch,” he says. “I never got this at other jobs—feeling rewarded for my efforts,” he adds.

While he goes about his regular maintenance duties, Kevin has been pondering his latest challenge: how to get the clock hands in the clock tower slide working again. He’s tried two motors already, but, as in the Goldilocks story, neither one fit. Then he found the right motor, but now he needs to find a smaller gear. He’s going to search his local hobby store, where he bought his first radio-controlled car many years ago, and where the owner knows him.

After experiencing race-day setup of the hot cars of NASCAR, and modifying trailers that haul huge loads across the country, Kevin seems to be coming back to his roots. But when he takes things apart and puts them back together again at Fairyland, he now has over 224,000 visitors every year who benefit from his skills.

One Response

  1. Emily Chandler

    Thank you for your work! We have noticed all of the changes. My very detail oriented 4 year old loves going there and notices every little change since our last visit. One unanswered question: where on earth is the wolf from the Three Little Pigs? I do think that these little fixes have made us feel like we can renew our membership over and over because we are always finding new things and exploring something we can see anew.

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